Happy Wednesday, Blawg Pound. Today I would like to talk about a television show that will begin its third season this evening: Broad City. It is funny and friendly and wonderful, and it’s the rare show that I might even try to find a way to watch live. In these cord-cutting times, that’s the highest praise I can dish out. (Good news if you’re a fan: Comedy Central has already signed on for fourth and fifth seasons.)
To my mind, the whole Broad City thing starts with some combination of friendship and sincerity. Co-creators and stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer are real friends, and that provides all sorts of territory for them to explore as fictional ones. They met some ten years ago at the improv proving grounds of the Upright Citizens Brigade. They bonded then, recognized the chemistry between them, started writing together, and boom. The rest is history.
The show, in short, chronicles the lives and times of twenty-somethings Abbi and Ilana as they live and work and stumble through New York. Abbi makes her money cleaning at a gym, while Ilana makes hers not-really-working at a vaguely described sales company. They have some other friends and acquaintances who make regular appearances, most notably a dentist portrayed by Hannibal Buress, but there’s little more you need to know. Abbi and Ilana are the very best of friends and they find themselves in funny situations. One could muddle the matter with talk of hedonism and weed and pegging, but that’s not what the show is about.
Broad City began as a web series of the same name some seven years ago. Since then the production value has risen, the acting has become more refined, and the writing has presumably gotten tighter, but the show has largely followed the same formula since it was created — far as I can tell, anyway. It’s about two friends who love each other, and the other stuff that happens to exist around them.
They are intoxicated by (and often in) each other’s presence, full partners in crime and life. Their New York is the New York that can be experienced only as a duo: a kaleidoscopic playground made for two, the kind of cinematic, heightened fun-house version of the city that accompanies the most epic, swooning romances.
They staunchly refuse to judge one another’s outsize behavior; instead, they practice radical mutual acceptance. Between them there are no boundaries, no topic too taboo.
Rachel Syme wrote that for Grantland (R.I.P.) a shade over a year ago. That last part, about how no topic is too taboo, is part of what makes Broad City so appealing. Nothing is treated like it’s outrageous for the sake of outrageous. There’s little in the way of oh man can you even believe this is on television. Whatever it is — whether it’s sex, drugs, rock and roll, or entering a forbidden hole — risque topics aren’t introduced for the hell of it. They find their way into the story because they make sense in that world, for better or worse. Instead of something to be reviled or gawked at, they are opportunities for saying something, be it about friendship, womanhood, humanhood, or the peculiarities of New York City.
Just as Baltimore is an essential element of the world of The Wire, New York is of Broad City. (Maybe not just as, but bear with me.) Much of what happens on the show is patently absurd, but that very absurdity is reasonable through this version of New York. It encapsulates high and low culture coming together, the perfect place for characters fascinated in equal measure by the Hamptons and homelessness. “Hell no,” Glazer once said when asked if the show could happen anywhere else.
Whereas Abbi often aspires to be responsible and mature, Ilana lives by the code of the moment. As TV critic Alan Sepinwall wrote, relating an archetype as described by TV writer Chris Downey: “You have a grounded character who follows the rules and has an unshakable belief they know how the world works. Into their orderly life comes the magical character, who breaks all the rules and yet is rewarded — while the grounded character is punished.” Abbi is the former, Ilana the latter, and that interplay defines much of their interaction.
If you’re willing to entertain such an idea, Broad City bears some resemblance to The Fast and the Furious. It’s an odd comparison, I grant you, given that the show is often discussed in terms of feminism. And while the show certainly explores some topics more germane to ladies than gentlemen, the core story it tells is universal. Just like Dom and Brian in Fast, Abbi and Ilana have each other’s backs for life.
GLAZER: That’s not a lesson in female friendships but rather in ride-or-die friendships.
JACOBSON: Exactly. It’s exciting to write characters who love each other and fight for each other.
GLAZER: There’s this belief with no merit that media with women at the center applies only to women, but media with men at the center applies to everyone. Abbi and Ilana’s friendship represents that ride-or-die dynamic for anyone to whom it speaks, not just women.
I would clumsily wax poetic about this show all day long, but regrettably I have other affairs to tend to. I’m just glad this show is back, and I’m glad it’s going to be around for a while yet.